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Union blames tax cap for school spending inequality


Wealthier schools in the state spend 80 percent more on student education than poorer districts. The New York State United Teachers blames the funding inequality in part on the states property tax cap.

NYSUT is the state’s largest teachers union. It claims that during the 2012-13 school year, the richest 10 percent of school districts spent an average of $35,690 per student, while the poorest 10 percent of schools spent an average of $19,823 per student. 

NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi says the funding inequality is aggravated by the two percent tax cap levy. The union is seeking to level the playing field for districts they believe will never be able to keep up with wealthier schools.

“What it does for a child is it creates a lack of equity. A child is not exposed to the same rich arts program, the ability to have after-school programs, field trips, [and] technology available,” said Iannuzzi.

The union claims the additional funds helps students in wealthy districts perform better on state exams than those who go to poorer schools. It added that argument to its lawsuit seeking to have the property tax cap declared unconstitutional.

Mike Durant of the National Federation of Independent Businessdisagrees with the litigation.

“The property tax burden in New York was the largest in the country and we needed to reign in the year-to-year increase in property taxes. That’s why we supported the cap. It helps taxpayers, it helps business, and it helps homeowners,” said Durant.

Durant says there are other ways to bridge funding gaps, like having teachers pay into their healthcare costs.

“When a school issues their budget in the spring and you look at a percentage of that budget, a bulk of that is going to pension costs and healthcare costs, not instructional costs, not helping our children get the education that they need,” said Durant.

The 2011 tax cap limits local government's and district's ability to raise property taxes, holding their levy increase to a maximum of two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Iannuzzi believes a lawsuit is the only solution available to get rid of the cap he believes creates disparities.

“The other solutions obviously involve the legislature coming up with a better strategy and a better way to finance education,” said Iannuzzi.

The state Supreme Court will hear the case Thursday in Albany.